Like his subject, pioneering photographer Diane Arbus, director Steven Shainberg relishes the dirty little secrets that arguably make us human. He did that with twisted romance Secretary and ventures into similar territory with Fur. It's tagged as 'An Imaginary Portrait Of Diane Arbus' because only the peripheral details are true. The rest is fairytale - Nicole Kidman in an adult version of Alice Through The Looking Glass - and while not entirely convincing, it is engaging.
Arbus is introduced as the sort of buttoned-down housewife that graced magazine covers in 1958 - the year the story is set. Chances are her husband (Ty Burrell) photographed those covers, but it's an idea of womanhood that Arbus finds oppressive. Kidman portrays that contained hysteria with brilliant efficiency; unfortunately Shainberg weighs her down with some clumsy moments, eg literally bursting out of her dress on the terrace of her New York apartment.
"A PROVOCATIVE PORTRAIT"
In doing so, she catches the eye of a mysterious neighbour who eventually reveals himself as an ex-sideshow 'freak'. Actually it's Robert Downey Jr staring soulfully out through a curtain of hair that sheaths his entire face and body. Still, his humanity shines through and keeps the story grounded as love blossoms. It's a provocative portrait, but more than that, an imaginative and sweet natured examination of Arbus' fascination with society's outsiders. The pace is rather too leisurely, however, and a late foray into soapy melodrama threatens to shatter the carefully constructed Looking Glass world. Certainly the film isn't without its flaws. Then again, perfection is in the eye of beholder.
Fur is released in UK cinemas on Friday 16th March 2007.